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Are you struggling with coercive control/narcissism or co-dependency in your relationships?

if so, would you consider getting therapy?


Most relationships thankfully are healthy, where the couple are respectful and are considerate of each other. They can communicate and have discussions that lead to win/win outcomes. The couple listen to understand each other. In this type of relationship each allows the other a voice, choice and independence. Both flourish and grow as individuals and as a couple.

However sadly there are relationships where the opposite is true. In my work I have found that there are co-dependent/co-dependent type relationships or co-dependent/narcissistic/coercive type relationships. Both are enmeshed and in both neither couples are free to flourish individually because there is an element of control of the other in both which stifles the growth of one or both individuals in each type of relationship.

In the coercive/narcissistic type relationship the abusive person tends to control, manipulate, lie, can be financially mean, can cheat and gaslight and in many cases can be violent. Their partner becomes destabilised and loses their self-esteem (if they had any in the first place). All too often this is not the first relationship of this type that the struggling partner has been in where they have been abused.

In therapy we help the client to recognise the red flags earlier, because if they do not, they are at risk and do enter similar relationships over and over and not understand why? Therapy helps to build the person’s self-esteem perhaps for the first time because often the client has come from a narcissistic background and they are not aware of what normal is.

The co-dependent’s control is very subtle/covert. They control by being dependent, needy, jealous, and fearful, they control the choices of others, they need to be needed to feel of worth and need to to be externally validated, when they do stg its often conditional. Many fear the outside world so they become dependent on their partner. This stops both from growing. Or keeps the co-dependent in a toxic relationship. Therapy can help the co-dependent to recover.

In a co-dependent/co-dependent relationship neither person makes their own needs a priority, this again come from childhood conditioning to get their parent’s approval. It has been my experience that the co-dependent couple can neglect their children’s needs to take care of other’s needs. Neither in the couple are centering their focus on their own or their family’s needs, this is because their self-esteem is met externally to get approval. This is a very hidden dysfunction in a relationship.

For example, working with a client this week who came about her relationship with her narcissistic mother. In trying to get a feel for her other relationships I asked about her relationship with her partner does she tend to please him too at her expense? Initially it was the perfect relationship however, upon further exploration she realised that she and her partner just pleased each other and everyone (even other’s children) at a cost to themselves and their own children. I have no doubt with this awareness and further therapy change will happen in this family system, and even the narcissistic mum will not have control she had previously.

Therapeutic support is invaluable in helping the victim/survivor of abuse to find their strength again and to make healthy choices for themselves. I generally work with victims of abuse because coercive/narcissistic partners who attend who don’t what to change are often present (perhaps unconsciously) to disrupt the process, or find something to criticise their partner about after the session. They can go to their own therapy.

The consequences of an abused (emotionally or physically) partner not getting therapeutic support is serious for both them and the family if there are children. Also Seeking help from support centres such as WOMENS OR MENS AID AND OTHERS SUPPORTS such as ACOA are essential.

Working therapeutically in a psychoeducational way and in tandem with processing the trauma is essential to facilitate timely change in the client. In this area of work its essential we facilitate the client to learn and act speedily because in some cases lives are at risk.

One recent client who lives abroad comes to mind, she was a successful business lady and she had been under the control of a manipulative and abusive man for 18 years. He would smash up her face often and she was in and out of A&E regularly. She was a lost soul when we started our work. Working with her psychoeducationally within weeks she was out of her denial and in a place where she had the strength to leave him.

His threat was always that he would take his life if she left. She left and he did sadly carry out his threat and took his life however, she was able to detach. This had been part of our preparatory work. The police in the case said that if she had not left when she had, they are sure it would have been a murder suicide case (they knew this man). This woman is now happy, confident and free today. She realises she is not responsible for any choices he decided to make. Seeking therapeutic support gave her back her freedom.

It is believed that coercive control as an issue is growing however, I believe it has finally come out into the open. It has always been present. Through education women and men are finally recognising when they are being abused and have less shame seeking therapeutic help. This is a welcome change supported by the advertising campaign on TV during covid. Sadly, though it remains somewhat hidden. Particularly where men are being coercively abused by women and men being abused in gay partnerships.

Therapy can bring the coercive abuser’s main tool of gaslighting to the awareness of the abused. It can be so subtle, confusing and de-stabilising, causing the abused to doubt and lose themselves. In therapy you will be validated and helped to see what is truly going on and how to handle it.

For example working with a co-dependent lady who wondered why she wasn’t thriving and who initially came for support on how to deal with her narcissistic mother. I asked her about her relationship with her partner. She said great, I had wondered if he was gaslighting her due to a few things she had mentioned– next session she said the very first question he asked her when she returned from our first session was “well did she(me) tell you everything you are doing wrong” she said she saw and understood so many things for the first time, that awareness continued throughout the week.

In a co-dependent/coercive type toxic relationship the co-dependent who keeps going back for more and is so attached that they can’t leave often has become addicted to their abuser. In therapy the addicted person is helped to recover from this toxic addiction, as a heroin addict would be helped with their addiction. Being addicted to a person gives the same good feeling as being addicted to heroin and it’s the most difficult addiction to free yourself from alone. Therapy is an essential support.

I have noticed an interesting pattern in 3 out of 5 relationships coercive relationships where the abused partners were complaining of poor communication, or irrational, reactive, distracted, impulsive, poor listening skills, or poor planning and lack of support and work addiction issues -that there was a suspicion of a high degree of undiagnosed ADHD and ASD present. Many of these clients were eventually diagnosed with ASD/ADHD by a neuropsychiatrist and also in all cases each had a child that exhibited similar presentation. In some cases these clients became more compassionate towards each other.

So if you are in a relationship that is not thriving or is indeed abusive seek out therapeutic support with a therapist who has knowledge about coercive control and co-dependency. It is essential you seek this support to work on yourself to build up your emotional strength and find your voice maybe for the first time in your life. You can never change the coercive controller/narcissist. That is their responsibility. Just focus on yourself.

However, if you think you are in immediate physical danger go to your GP and the Guards and women’s aid or men’s aid. They will let you know if it’s advisable to get a safety order or even a barring order, the legal people who work in the appropriate area will advise you what is the best route to take. They will also help you to report any child welfare issues to TUSLA.

Have a safety plan prepared i.e. going to as safe part of the house away from dangerous objects that you can be attacked with, keeps spare car keys always ready, back car into drive way, and some spare basic clothes ready and hidden, have trusted neighbours aware so you can switch on and off lights to get their attention, have a code word, have local guards number, know your local battered women’s shelter, unfortunately there are none yet available for men hopefully this will change soon.

It is essential for your children that they have a chance to live in a healthy family system, where their needs are central. This might mean two parents who are willing to change and work on the relationship by going to counselling together. CHANGE CAN HAPPEN. Or by having at least one healthy parent. This will positively impact on the self-esteem and contentment of all.

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